San Francisco Chronicle Op-ed

San Francisco Chronicle — April 5, 2013

More trauma centers would help crime victims

My awakening from a coma in 2006 was both physical and metaphorical. My eyes opened, over time, to new perspectives on life, including the support that survivors of crime need but too often don't receive.

It started the night of Aug. 24, 2006, while I was walking from my home in San Leandro to BART. A young man took my arm and said, "I'm sorry we have to do this." He pulled me off the sidewalk and, along with three other youths, severely beat me and took my belongings.

All four were caught, convicted and imprisoned. Meanwhile, I began a long road of recovery that continues to this day. After coming out of the coma, it took me nearly two years to completely regain my speech, and I still suffer severe headaches, dizziness and memory loss.

In addition to updates, instructions and requests from medical staff, police and social workers making a painful, confusing time even more so, my health care provider connected me with a support group of crime victims that I found full of unproductive anger and vengefulness.

Considering my physical and psychological state then, it was an overwhelming experience that seemed to exacerbate, not address, the trauma I was feeling. What I needed was someone who would understand my needs and help me address them.

I came to learn that victims of crime have numerous recovery needs, but few effective resources are available. Studies suggest that half of all survivors of violent or traumatic injuries have lasting social or psychological problems. These can soon affect the rest of the community if survivors requires expensive medical services, lose their house or job, or act out violently (especially if they develop addictive behaviors with drugs or alcohol to deal with their pain).

With thousands of violent assaults, rapes and murders in California each year, the impact on the survivors - not to mention their partners, parents, siblings and loved ones - makes trauma intervention a smart strategy, not just a moral imperative.

That's why I've joined other crime victims with the nonprofit Californians for Safety and Justice to spotlight the real needs of those traumatized by crime. We're troubled by the over-investment in prisons that haven't proved to reduce crime in our communities - and how that drains resources from practices that are known to make us safer.

Our first goal is to pass Senate Bill 580, introduced by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, which would use existing state funds for crime victims to create trauma centers in three cities, modeled after the Trauma Recovery Center at San Francisco General Hospital.

The center began in 2001 to meet immediate needs of survivors by combining mental health, medical, law enforcement and social agency services under one roof. The center's streamlining of victims' assistance has proved to be cost-effective for the city, but savings isn't the only reason to offer such support to survivors of crime: It can also reduce repeat victimization and help those traumatized avoid hurting others.

I wish I had access to San Francisco's Trauma Recovery Center when I opened my eyes in a hospital in 2006. Fortunately, lawmakers can open theirs to this important opportunity to provide such access to more Californians who experience crime.

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